ANTHONY FORDE knows more than most what winning the Cadbury's All-Ireland U-21 football championship final next Sunday would mean to Cavan football.
The Cavan Gael, now part of manager Terry Hyland's backroom team, played on the last Breffni U-21 team to reach this stage in 1996 -- and still has the scars.
That Cavan team had taken out some big guns en route -- not least a Meath side that included the likes of Trevor Giles and Darren Fay, to earn a date with destiny.
A talented team that also included Dermot McCabe, Mickey Graham and Larry and Peter Reilly were beaten by Kerry by 1-17 to 2-10. But what has haunted Forde since is the divergent paths the players involved took afterwards.
"Kerry had the likes of Darragh O Se, Dara O Cinneide, Killian Burns, Mike Frank Russell and Eamonn Fitzmaurice that day and and we just fell a little short," he recalled.
"When I look back, what disappoints me the most is what they went on to achieve afterwards, compared to us. Darragh O Se went on to become a football legend.
"That's the thing about football. If you can win one title, it gives you so much confidence to drive on. One win can make such a difference."
However, this crop of Cavan players are certainly no one-season wonders.
Last season they lost the Ulster U-21 final to Donegal, who went on to contest the All-Ireland final only to be pipped by Dublin.
When they got back into the provincial final this year they faced the barometer for all underage football in Ulster -- Tyrone.
Many of them had already been walloped by Tyrone in an U-16 final and, two years later, had their hearts again broken by the same opposition in an Ulster minor semi-final.
There's 18 of those U-16s still involved and Cavan finally got one over on their nemeses, winning the Ulster final by a goal margin.
They could have gone wild afterwards, considering it was only the county's third Ulster U-21 title after 1996 and 1988.
But with an All-Ireland semi-final against Wexford just three days later they ditched any celebrations for a night's wind-down in a pool and got their just rewards when their weary limbs got them through on a 1-10 to 0-8 scoreline.
Now, Galway stand between them and a first All-Ireland U-21 crown.
Handling the hype has not been easy. "It's always a feast or a famine with Cavan," Forde quipped.
"In fairness we have the best supporters in the country. When we beat Wexford I'd say we brought 9,000 to Parnell Park -- they were our 16th man.
"There is serious excitement around the county, great colour and support, but we've also had to work to protect the lads from all that and keep them grounded because this is all completely new to them."